Pat Mulcahy is a very unusual farmer. This has been clear ever since he took over Ballinwillin House and Farm in Mitchelstown in County Cork back in 1985.
“Farming was even more traditional then that it is now,” says Pat. “Dairy farming was all there was in this part of the country and when I decided to start farming deer and wild boar, people thought I was completely mad. We’d have farm visits and people would come, not because they wanted to see what we were doing, but because they wanted to see the lunatic who was doing it.”
Pat was drawn to these particular animals because of his interest in ancient history. “The first food that the primitive people of Ireland ate was deer and wild boar,” he says. “I wanted to reintroduce it to the Irish diet.”
The process wasn’t easy. “We had to go to Eastern Europe to find good stock and there were stringent veterinary standards,” he says. “The department wanted to make sure that I was importing healthy stock into the country.”
Once he’d imported them, Pat then set about farming those animals using organic methods. However, building up a customer base proved difficult. “Irish people were very traditional eaters at that time,” he says. “I remember giving people tastings in supermarkets and as soon as I said it was venison, they’d spit it out. Anything different was seen as dangerous and that was very deflating for me.”
Chefs were the first to be won over. “High-end restaurants all over Ireland were great supporters of ours from the early days,” he says.
This has only increased with time. “Now chefs want to support farmers and acknowledge the provenance of the food on their menus,” he says. “We hold a function on the farm every year to thank the chefs who buy from us.”
Online sales are a growing part of his business too. Anyone wanting to purchase venison, wild boar or goat from Pat can do so through his online shop at www.ballinwillinhouse.com.
“I moved into goat in recent years following demand from chefs and now we have 800 deer, 350 boar and 150 goats on the farm at any one time,” he says.
Venison, wild boar and goat may no longer elicit such surprise from Irish diners but Pat’s latest venture is might do. He now runs the intriguingly named RetrEats on his farm.
“As a child in rural Ireland, I was always very close to nature and even today, I meditate outdoors for at least an hour every day,” he says. When someone suggested that he offer his guidance to others, he decided go for it.
He recently held his second retreat. “Here’s how it works,” he says. “Guests arrive on Friday and after settling in, we invite them to a ‘winefulness’ chat. We produce our own wines under organic conditions in Hungary and we serve those along with charcuterie and breads as well as non-alcoholic drinks for those who don’t partake.”
Food is a priority on these retreats and guest chefs cater for the guests, cooking the Friday night meal and lunch on Saturday and Sunday as well as a long table supper on Saturday.
However, mindfulness and meditation is the main focus. “On Friday night, we go out into the mindfulness garden that I’ve created for a half hour before bedtime,” says Pat. “Saturday is an intense day that starts with a barefoot walk in the woods before breakfast, a meditation session from 10am to 1pm, lunch, another meditation session, a long table five course dinner and more time in the woodlands before bed.”
Sunday starts with another barefoot session and there is one mindfulness session before lunch and then the guests head home, hopefully a lot more relaxed than they were when they arrived.
“We’ve had a great response to the retreats we’ve held so far and we’re planning to hold them every two months from now on,” says Pat. That means that the next one will be in March. You can find out more on www.ballinwillinhouse.com.